tv The David Rubenstein Show Peer to Peer Conversations PBS January 4, 2020 5:00am-5:31am PST
announcer: support for the pbs presentation of this program was provided by general motors. man:ee a future. woman: i see a good future. woman: i see a future filled with roads and no rage. both: we see a future... man: with zero crashes. woman: i see a future where fossil fuels... n: are a thing of the past. all: we see a future with zero emissions. whn: are a thing of the past. man: i see a futuree traffi. second man: keeps peect time. third man: where intelligence is always by design. fourth man: we see a future with zero congestion. woman: zero congestion. we are... second man: we are... both: we are... all: general motors. david: did you ever think that one day, you would be the chairman of the joint chiefs? powell: it was beyond any possible level of aspiration. david: people said this man should be president of the united states. davidpowell: it had thisnever occurred to me.ent david: any r about not having run? some people say ita great. ht david: ano?r [audience la]aving run? powell: prove it. david: ha ha! new national security advisor came in, and he wanteyou as his deputy.
powell: so i said, "if it's that important, why doesn't the president call me? heh!" , general powell. this is ronald reagan." "yes, sir." ha ha! [audience laughter] woman: would you fix your tie, please? david: well, people wouldn't recognize me if my tie was fixed, but ok. y[woman giggles]? all right. i don't consider myself a journalist, and nobody else would consider myself a journalist. i began to tn e on the life of beingterviewer, even though i have a day job running a private equity firm. how do you define leadership? what is it that makes somebody tick? we're here today at city college, place that you graduated from a number of years ago. powell: thank you, david. david: why did you city college? powell: i was accepted at ccny and i was accepted at nyu, and the nyason i went to ccny is was charging $750 a month--
a year. i couldn't handle that. family didn't handle that, so i took ccny 'cause it was free and because it was easy to get to and i'd heard a lot abouit. david: and you grew up in...the bronx? powell: i was born in harlem, about a mile from here, and i grew up in the south bronx section of new york, the hunts point section. david: and your parents were immigrants from... powell: powell: yep. david: so growing up in new york, did you enjoy new york as a young boy? a well: i thought it was nderful place to be a d. it was such a diverse place, that it really--it really bonded on me that this is what the world is, full of people of different backgrounds, cultures, colors, you name it. and, of course, ccny replicated that perfectly. i learned a little bit of yiddish working for 6 years in another corner of the south bronx at a place called j. sickser's, which sold juvenile furniture and carriages and toys. he was a russian j. it was me, there was an irish driver,
and an italian and one story i love to tell is, after i had been doing this for a couple of years with j., he came up to me and he put his arm around my shoulderll is, aand he says, "collie, collie"-- a jewish yiddish diminutive-- "collie, collie, don't think "you can stay here at this store. "this will go to my daughters and to their husbands. "i want--you should get your education "tand go somewhere and doters andsomething."usbands. and i had no intention of staying at that store and being what's called a schlepper, somebody that just drags boxes around. "schlep." ody knows what "schlep" means. it touched me so deeply that i remembered it for the rest of my life and wrote about it in my memoir. he thought enough of me to tell me that i shoulveget my education and p, and that's what i did, and ccny was the source of tt education. david: did you ever think that one day you would be the chairman of the joint chiefs and the secretary of state of e united states? powell: no. people ask me that--this all the time. it usut ly starts out with, "war did you graduate from west point?" "well, i didn't go to west point.
i couldn't have aspired to go to west point." "well, did you go to the citadel or did you go to texas a&m or vi military institute?" i'd say, "no, they wouldn't let black guys in then it was beyond any possible level onof aspiration or expecta but it happened. why did it happen? because i got a quality public school education that i didn't know was of that high quality at the time. elementary school, junior high school, high school, then ccny let me in with my modest average. then it was rotc and ccny that really madehe difference. david: and you were a geology major. g did you think you weng ccny thto go into the geology world? powell: no, i was a geology jor 'cause i busted out of civiengineering, ok? now you know. [audience laughter] that didn't need to come up, david. thank y very much. david: heh heh! so when you graduated, when you're in rotc, you have an obligation powell: it was for 3 years at that time, and i was a professional career officer not just a reserve officer at that point. i got a regular army commission,
and so i went in as a career choice. david: you went to the south for training. powell: i graduated in '58 an which was still in a segregated state in a segregated city-- columbus, georgia. so i knew well that, on post, i was like anybody else, but as soon as i left post, there were places i could not go, stores i coulnot go into, places i could never think even ordering a hamburger, and i was thrown out of hamburger joints in columbus, georgia. da d: they just would say,e do? powell: it was even worse than that. i stopped at a little hamburger joint late one night, and i knew i couldn't go in, so i just went to the window and asked for a hamburger, and this nice white lady from new. ersey said, "i'm sordon't know why, but i can't serve you. you can go around the back." i said, hanks." so i went back onto the base. and that was in early 1964, and then the civil rights act of 1964, the accommodations act, was signed in july, just before july 4.
and on july 5, i went back to that hamburger joint, and they served me. and what america discovered is that seggation was not just a burden for blacks. was a burden for whites. we were living in a crazy system. david: so where did you meet your wife? powell: in bdaton. it was on a blin. there was a friend of mine who was interested inlklma's roommate, so he ta me into going on a blind date to take alma out of the way. david: oh. [audience laughter] powell: and so went in there, and she was mad. she had no intention of dealing wita soldier or going out with a soldier, but she changed her mind when we had a chance to meet and talk for a little while. and then we dated for out 8 or 9 months and we became very close, and then i drove into boston and ld her, "i just got ders. "i'm going to vietnam, and i'll be an advisor "to a vietnamese infantry unit, and i'll be ay for a year e "i'm going to vietnam, and i hope you'll wr."or she said, "that's all you want me to do, is write you?" i said, "well, yeah." [scattered lghter]
and she said, "no." i said, "no?" "no, i'm notgonna sit here for a year, waiting to see what "your interests might be when you getack. "if this is all i mean to you, no, i'm not gonna write you. find somebody else to write you." and so i drove back the next night and asked if she would marry me and write me. audience member: aw. powell: and she said yes. david: you went to vietnam, and you were injured? powell: yeah. david: and you came back to the states and you went back again to vietnam. powell: about 5 years later, i went back and got injured again, yea david: and when you came back, your career really took off a bit. you became a white house fellow. powell: i did. i was one d about 15 people who worve one year in washington in one of the offic of the cabinet. in my case, i worked in the office of management and budget, and i learned a lot about government in that year. david: after your white house fellowship, you did what? powell: i went to korea an infantry battalion in korea. david: ok. powell: it's a year that i've
considered one of the most rewarding years i've had in the army. we were just starting out in the volunteer army, and it was my opportunity notto train these young people, but to give them a ged educatn and english as a second language. david: you eventuallynt to e. powell: i was in europe as a young lieutenant for two years, then the period you're talking about is i worked for cap weinberger. david: the secretary of defense? powell: he was the secretary of defense, and i was his military assistant, his senior military assistant. and after two years, it was time for me to move on and get back in the army, and they got me an assignment in germany, where i was gonna take command of a division. i waa two-star general. and then, one day, the chief of staff, general wickham, walks in and "we've changed. i said, "what have we--sir, the family's packed. we got the house sold, got--stuff's moving. "mr. weinberger wants you to stay here for another year." i said, "and not take a division?" and "tt's right." and then he said something which was quite right. he says, "just remember, colin, you're here to serve,
"and you serve where we need you. "i can find division commanders anywhere. "mr. weinberger, the secretary of defense, wants you to stay longer." "yes, sir," and then i went in that evening to see mr. weinberger, secretary weinberger, and he knew i was kind of disappointed. and so he looked at me and he says, "well, you know, colin, "ynot going to get a division now, "and i know that disappoints you, but next year, you're going to get a corps, and that's two divisions." david: right. colin: corps is a much larger organization, pple in the fifth corps. and a year later he let me go, and we to germany and took command of the fifth united states corps headquartered in frankfurt, guarding the fulda gap, one of the invasion routes we expected the russians to come in. david: so that was a great job-- powell: it was a great job. it lasted 4 months. david: because what happened was there was e iran-contra scandal...well:. david: new national security advisor, frank carlucci, came in and he wanwed you as hiseputy. : and i said, "frank, it can't be that important." he says, "it is that important." so then i said, "ok, see if you can risk your entire career by saying the next sentence. i said, "well, frank, if it's
that important, why doesn't the president call me? heh!" [scattered laughter] halfour later, david: you get a call from... powell: "hello, roneral powell. this ild reagan." "yes, sir." ha ha! "i really, really want you to come back here." he's reading the talking points that frank gave him. "i really, really want you to come back here and be the deputy al security advi--" "yes, sir, i'll be right there." so that's it. david: so you came back? powell: yeah. 9 months later, frank t assigned to become the secretary of defense, and i'm saying, "good! i can go back to the army now." and then, one day i was chairing a national security council meeting, and suddenly the door olkns and the president in and gets to the head of the table. and frank comes around to the side, and while the meeting is going on, frank rips off a piece of paper and scribbles something on it and he sends it down the table to me. and i open up the little piece of paper and it says "you are now the national security advisor." [scattered chuckling] no interview, no nothing. so the last year and a half of my time
in the white house wasth presi. became an extremely clos and strong relationship. david: when the administration ended, you went back into a military position, but at long afterwards, president george herbert walker bush, the president of t united states right after ronald reagan, said, "i need you to be the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff." i went over to see the chief of staff of the army to ask if the army still wanted me. didn't want to be ordered back into the army. i wanted the army to say they wanted me. and the neident, president george herbert walker bush, had offered me--the second day as president-elect, he offered me 3 jobs in his administration. and i thanked r the offer. i didn't say no right away. i went to see ae chief of staff of ty, general vuono, and i said, "chief, if you want me back and have something "for me, i'd be--that's what i want to do, but if it's "too difficult and my screwy career so r, if you think it's
ju timeor me to leave says what i so and, you know, i'm gone." and he said, "no, we want you back, we have a position for you," and i said, "thank you." and then i wt back to the white house the next morning, erand the president was with the vice president, and i thanked the vice president for his offers, but, no, i'm going back to the army. i'm going to be the commander of the forces command," it was called, and president reagan said, "well, is that a promotion?" i said, es, mr. president. i'll be getting my fourth star." he said, "oh, that's good," in that typical reaganesque fashion, yeah. i'm in atlanta, georgia, with a great command, a beautiful house, nice headquarters, and i'm at a conference in the baltimore area with all the army senior 4-stars, and i get a call: "secretary cheney"-- now the secretary of defense-- "wants to see you," and so i said, "uh-oh." so i go to the pentagon in chinos and a polo shirt and go into his office and he says, "president bush wa make you the chairman."
david: early in the bush administratio saddam hussein invaded kuwait, and was it clear to you that we should go in and try to kick him out? powell: well, it was clear to me that this was a horrible invasion and it could not be allow to stand, and the first challenge was to make sure he didn't go south into saudi arabia. and so general schwarzkopf was the commander in ts region, and he and i were pretty close and we talked about all ofhis. david: you invented something that became known he powl doctrine. powell: not quite. it was invented by a "washington post" reporter, who came to see me one day, and he said, "i'm writing an article about the powell doctrine." i said, "great. what is it?" [scattered laughter] he said, "what you always say "and what you did when we invadepanama and took out manuel noriega"--one, make sure you go to war after all diplomatic and political possibilities have been dealt with, and there has to be a clear political objective, not just a military objective;
and then the second irt of the powell doctrii used overwhelming force once, but what i've always said is decisiven'orce, so that people think you ve to sort of have a gazillion people, just have whatou need to have a decisive outcome. david: you get the order fr the psident to kick saddam hussein and his troops out. powell: when that decision came down, that we cod not find a diplomatic solution, i received the order and i gave the order to norm and we were ready. david: so there was a famous military maneuver. rather than going directly toward the enemy is david: whose brilliant idea was that? powell: any infantry captain could have figured this out. it didn't take a general, and several generals have made claims-- david: men of worth? ok. powell: it was the only conflict i've ever been in wor ever read history abore i could say to the president "the iraqis have made several horrible mistakes. "they put their line of soldiers right on the border
airpower would n let them move. and then they had 4 divisions along the coast, and they were o ry light; alwe had is fix these two forces in place and go around them--the left hook, as it's alsoeferred to-- and that's what we did. but my surprise, the night launche, afe air attacks for several weeks, and i was expecting that the marines, who were right opposite the iraqis, they were told, and i told them, "attack, but don't get decisively engaged. "i don't want to lbunch of marines; i just want you to freeze the iraqis in place." same thing on the coast. "amphibious operation,or a just freeze them 'cause we're gonna go around them all." but the marines, being marines, they did what they were told, but some soldiers in the marines, some marines that they'd put in place, the fire trenches, the barb wires, the minefields, and cut a path right through
the iraqi army facing us. and so, when that happened, military doctrine says exp so we told the marines, "go," and they burst right through the iraqi force and they were heading to kuwait city before we even launched the left hook. david: so ultimately the war is over, you decide to a book about your life called "my american journey." all of a sudden, when you were doing your book tour, people said, "this man should be president of the united states." powell: it had n occurred. e people sand then suddenlyould be presidenthbook came out states." and it caught media attention, and lots of people were coming to me saying, you know, "you need to run." well, i didn't ever think of running, and i had no plar passion then to run, but i felt an obligation to consider the matter, and so i did. you know, i'm a serviceman band i try to do whatthink . to consider the matter, most of the republican party did not want me to run epublican; they even put out statements saying, "we don't want him in the party." david: because you wertoo - powell: yeah, probably, 'cause i was too moderate, yeah. david: any regrets about not ving run?
powell: no. why? david: well, some people say it's a great job. no? [audience laughter] powell: prove it. ha ha! david: so, when you decided not to run, a lot of people were disappointed, and you stayed in the private sector. powell: of people were disappointed but a lot of people were not disappointed i can assure you. and then gd rge w. bush was elecesident, he calls you an says, "i'd like you to bsec" powell: i sensed he was the kind of republican that i would want to be, and so i was pleased to be able to go back into government and serve my country once again. david: ok, so you're secretary of state, and th 9/11 happens. when did you realize that you would have to be involved, angovernment would have to be involved in some kind of military confrontation? powell: well, you can't go by without doing something about it. and my job was to not immediately get involved ilitary matters,ut to pull the international community together, and it was a very rewarding experience. for the first time in nato's history, they invoked what is
called article 5, which said if any member of the alliance is attacked, we were all attacked, so they were all on our side. david: subsequently, we turned our attention to iraq, and president bush aecided that we woulinvasion of iraq to go after saddam hussein. ll: what i said to the president before that was, "mr. president, you need to understand "that if you take out this government, "you become responsible for 27 million iraqis "who will be standing there, looking at us. "you take on greatsponsibile you understand that and you want to do it?" and we were private when we were having this conversation, and he said, "well, what's the alternative?" and i said, "the alternativewere is to have the u.n.ation, in the first position. "they're the ones whose solutions have been violated, so let's have a diplomatic approach." dad: president bush said, "i agree with your idea of going to the u.n. and convincing them."
powell: he did. before taking military action, he wanted to present our case to the united nations publicly. afand so, on a thursday rnoon, i was in with him. he said, "would you take the case next tuesy?" david: to the u.n. powell: yeah. david: you made the case that saddam did have, or we thoughad, weapons of mass destruction. when it turned out he didn't... powell: right. david: do you think, you know, you were embarrassed by that, or do you think seat the u.s. was embarr or do you think, had we known he didn't have weapons of mass destruction, presidaht bush would have gonead anyway? powell: no, he and i asked him that specific question when we were going through this. i id, "mr. president, "if saddam hussein can prove that he has no weapons "of mass destruction, then you do not have a basis for war. "are you prepared to accept that, even it means "ofsaddam hussein willthen you do not stay in place?"r war. hesitantly, he said, "yes, i will accept that." so that's whi went forward, so i went out and spent 3 days at the cia with the intelligence communities and prepared the document that i would prent, and every word in there was approved by the cia.
it was written by the cia. and so we went, i gave the presentation. it seemed to go well, i was confident that it went well, buorthen, within a few days coud to fall apart, so yes, i was more than embaassed. i was mortified, because even though the presidnft had used the same iormation, congress had used the same information, secretary rumsfeld, condoleezza rice, all of us were using the same information, but i'm the one who made the biggest presentation of it, so it all sort of fell on me. david: well-- powell: that's-- that's show business. huh? david:, ut today, in hindsiguld you say the invasion was a mistake? powell: i'd say the execution of the invasion was not doroperly. we abandonedsche army without any sion back in washington, and then we abandoned something worse, the baath party, and said that anybody who worked for wothe baath party could no in the new government. those were two monstrously bad strategic decisions,
and we did not have enough force in there to d what we wanted the iraq army to do, and the place fell apart. now, right now, iraq has a democracy. itoc tricky, but it's a dcy. they have elections, and they are trying to restore order in their country. if they do all of that, i think it's bad that we went about it in such a terrible way-- my humble judgment; others will not agree with me-- that if they come througs ght now as a democracy, wen and no saddam hussein, then i think you have to judgthis differently than what's being judged now. david: so presbush is reelected. in the second term, you retire as secretary of state and do things in the private sector. one of the things you did was to set up the colin powell school at ccny. tell us about the colin powell school. powell: when i left the state department, i came up here to see a little center, the colin powell center, that had been endowed by the rudin family, and i wanted
tohat they were doing. they'd been, you know-- and the answer was that they hadn't been doing much. it was more of a mini think tank. and i sat in theonference room here at ccny, and about a dozen students came in, yed i saw passion in their i saw them hungry for a better life. i knew that most of them came from families where nobody had yet graduated from college, and this was the first generation of that family. en it got back to me, i said, "my god, this is me. this is me, 50 years ago. i got to be a part of this." david: i know you're very proud of the school, as you should be. you look back on your extraordinary life in public service, did your parents live to see your success? very proud of that, but my father was failing, i could see that, and then he died about a year and a hal mlater, so he didn't smake general,
but mother was there when i was promoted to general, and she stood there in this line of people, very proud. she was only about this tall, 5'3" or so, and there was the secretary of defense and the deputytary of defense and all these generals watching, and so she was very proud. she and my wife pinned my stars on, and from then on, in an almost yiddish expression, she would say to everybody [scattered laughter] david: youere seen many great lein your career-- political leaders, military leaders, obviously, ybeen a great leader yourself. what is it, in your view, that makes a person a great leader? powell: a pers understands that they are leading followers, a person who understands that they are there to put a group of human beings into work that has value, that has a purpose, and the leader will give them the inspiration needed to achieve that purpose, and the leader will make sure
they have everything they need to get it done. so i've always taken on every job i've h with, "what am i trying to do? what's the purpose? "what's the vision and what's the purpose? why are we here? what are we doing?" and then get thadown to the lowest person in the organization and then make sure they have whatever they need, whether it's diplomatic weapons or real weapons of war, and make sure that i took care of them and gave them every opportunity to be successful. so that's what leaderip is all about-- inspiring followers. there's a story about lincoln that i've alwaysppreciated. iv the early days of the war, he would go to the old soldiers home outside of the swampy area of washington, up in the north part of the city, ap and there was a teleoffice there. and one night a message comes in and the telegraph operator writes it down and... "mr. president, it's not good." and he hands it to him and the message says, you know, "the confederates have just raided a union outpost
"out by fairfax station and they've captured a hundred horses and a brigadier general." hate to lose a hundred horses." so the telegraph operator asked him, "wadl, what about the brr general?" and lincoln's reply was, "i can make a brigadier general in 5 minutes, but it's hard to replace a hundred horses." somebody gave that to me the day i made brigadier general... [laughter] and it has been by my desk ever since. to this day, it's there. if you came the house now, you'd see it. it always reminded me that your job, powell, is to take care of the horses. don't worry abing a brigadier general. take care of the horses, the soldiers, the employees, the clerks, the students, the y, whatever it takes to be successful in whatever it is you're trying to achieve. david: colin, thank you for a great career and thank you for what you've done for our country and for ccny, and thank you for a great conversation. por ll: thank you, david, ming up to campus.
david: thank you. thank you. [applause] of this program was provided by general motors. man: i see a future. woman: see a good future. woman: i see a future filled with roads and no rage. both: we see a future... man: with zero crashes. woman: i see a future where fossil fuels... man: are a thing of the past. all: we see re with zero emissions. man: i see a future where traffic... second maneps perfect time. third man: where intelligence is always by design. fourth man: we see a future with zero coestion. woman: zero congestion. man: we are... second man: we are... both: we are... all: general motors. man: we are... you're watching pbs.. ♪
>> they lived alongside one of america's most belovedenators and mavericks. now they are the keepers of his legacy. this week on "firing line"... >> whatever our differences, we are fellow americans, and please believe me when i say -- no association has ever meant more to me than that. to the country, senator john mccain was an american hero, a man who spent more than five years as a prisoner of war in vietnam, and then 3 1 decades in the united states congress. >> we've been spinning our wheels on too many int issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle. we are getting nothing done, my friends. we're getting nothing done! >> well, to this week's guest, widow cindy and daughter meghan, he was so much more. >> i love you so much. [ applause ]